I know there is plenty of hype surrounding the NV15 right now, but another wave of GeForce cards is hitting the market. These cards are equipped with 64 MB of DDR memory. One of the first to market, is the Dell GeForce Plus available in the Dell Dimension XPS line of PC's.
After getting everything lined out for the Brian Zucker Interview, Dell's marketing team was able to get me into the Hardware Development Lab to see the 64MB DDR GeForce in action. Lucky me, the card was in the brand new 1GHz Dimension XPS B. I decided to give you guys some dirt on the GHz system, as well.
Let me say that I am one very lucky individual, as the supply of these PC's is VERY short. The system had what seems to be the most popular configuration with 128 MB of RDRAM, a 30 GB hard drive, 64 MB DDR GeForce video card, 12X MAX. DVD-ROM, 8X MAX. CD-RW and a SoundBlaster Live! Value. The thing is loaded. I get the feeling that Dell wanted to make a statement.
The Dimension XPS B1000r
Let's start with the guts. Dell has traditionally stuck with Intel reference designs when it comes to motherboards. Now that I think of it, I had gotten so used to Dell just following Intel's lead, I didn't bother to ask if they strayed.
What I can tell you, the motherboard is i820 based and has two RDRAM slots, AGP4X, 5-1-1 slot configuration. As you can see from the pic above, the case includes a crossbar for additional case chassis strength which can be used to help support AGP cards. It is designed to be easily removed for maintenance.
Here is a rundown of the features:
Dell Dimension(r) XPS B1000r
- Pentium(r) III Processor at 1 GHz
- 128MB RDRAM
- 64MB DDR NVIDIA GeForce Plus AGP Graphics Card
- 30GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
Conexant V.90/56K Telephony
- NEW 12X Max Variable DVD ROM Drive with Software Decoding for 64MB DDR NVIDIA GeForce Graphics Card
- SoundBlaster Live! Value Digital with MusicMatch Jukebox Enhanced Version
- Sony 8x/4x/32x CD-RW Drive
Like I said, Dell wanted to make a statement. Take a closer look at cooling the GHz PentiumIII.
Cooling a GHz
By concealing the processor in a cooling shroud, the air exhausted by the processor's fan travels by the heatsink at a higher velocity, meaning more heat dissipation. I have seen this setup before on the Dell Precision Workstation, but not on the Dimension Series. The shroud also helps the GeForce by giving it free reign to heat the rest of the air in the case on its own.
There are eight DDR chips meaning 8MB DDRAM each. Default clockspeed for the DDR memory is 150MHz, which is in effect 300MHz due to the ability of DDR memory to transfer data on both swings of the clock cycle. The obvious advantage for bandwidth that the DDR memory equipped GeForce has over it's SDRAM siblings is supplemented by the additional 32MB of memory aiding the storage textures, thereby decreasing the number of texture transfers over the AGP bus.
The fan/heatsink combo is the same combo found on the Creative Labs Annihilator PRO. The setup provides sufficient cooling, but I would still recommend yanking it off in favor of a larger heatsink, that is, if you do not mind losing your warranty. Note the memory traces on the back of the card. Very clean. Each trace for the memory is of equal length to ensure stabiltiy. Every card does this , it's just that this card's traces look better.
With ATA66, RDRAM, and 1GHz of processing power, the XPS B 1000r can open Microsoft Word, so disgustingly fast, that I cringed and let out a little whimper. 1GHz is fast, and don't you forget it.
Since this was a preview, I was not able to run a full suite of benchmarks. I was able to run Quake 3 Arena with both the Dell supplied drivers and with the 5.08 beta drivers. The Dell drivers are designed for stability. They eliminate the additional control panel due to "excessive" customer service calls asking why everything was bluish after the user had fouled up the gamma settings. I can understand the elimination, but the option to bring back the added features should be made available to the users.
The way to bring back all the properties tabs, is to install nVIDIA reference drivers. After installing the 5.08 beta reference drivers, I tentatively and cautiously overclocked the card to 135MHz core and 366MHz memory clocks, and restarted Quake3.
Unfortunately, performance was a bit lackluster. Keep in mind the system is a lab rat, and probably had a few skeletons in it's closet. I was able to get a couple of timedemos using demo001 in and for the most part, the Dell hog was about 7fps slower than my system at home (C366@550, 128MB RAM, 9GB SCSI, CL Ann. PRO). The XPS B 1000r pulled down 51.6fps (with out S3TC) at 1024x768x32bit. I am positive I was missing a tweak.
FSAA on 64MB DDR GeForce
Despite being dissapointed the Demo001 timedemo, I was hugely thrilled by the scores on the Quaver Demo. While my system at home pulls down a solid 15fps when running the texture rich timedemo at 1024x768x32bit, the Dell 64 MB DDR card cranked out an amazing 47fps (again, with out S3TC). My jaw dropped.
To test with something other than Quake3, I ran the Verge Demo. Texture loaded scenes that dragged my framerate down at home, were consistently 10-20fps higher on the 64MB DDR card with 1GHz backing it. DMZG was considerably faster as well, especially in the lake area after going through the cave.
The Dell Dimension XPS B 1000r may be a bit ahead of the market. At $4000, it has a limited audience. However, I am positive, this is the fastest computer I have ever used. Given the proper time to benchmark, I know that I could have found the issues causing the "low" Quake3 scores. The components inside are top-notch, as are the case and hardware surrounding the components.
Concerning the GeForce Plus, the quality of the card is very high. The circuit board is well designed and does include the TV-Out option. However, I would like to see a higher quality heatsink and fan combination on the card, given the time taken to design additional cooling for the processor.
Is it worth $120 upgrade to the Dell Dimension? Maybe. The extra 32MB of DDR memory gives you the ability to run at framerates higher than using S3TC on 32MB cards, with out taking the hit in visual quality associated with texture compression. I will also offer up that the added memory will increase the longevity of the GeForce based card, and may give you the luxury (i.e. patience) of waiting for NV20.
Big thanks to Gary, Maria, Brian, and Andy at Dell for all their help.